Kenneth Kieser: Turkey season will soon be here – is your shotgun ready?

The Examiner
Sight in that shotgun for results like this.

I watched three big gobblers in the middle of March feeding in a cornfield. They were clearly walking in line because of their pecking order and nibbling away at some farmer’s grain left in the field.

By April 1, they will start looking for hens to breed. The hens will make enticing noises, knowing the boys will soon arrive and that is your cue to make sweet music on a turkey call. Your state’s legal hunting day will arrive in a few days, so be prepared.

Every year, thousands of hunters travel to rural areas looking for a big gobbler. They get out of bed well before daylight and drive while trying to keep their eyes open. Hunter’s live for the moment when a huge tom comes gobbling into their set and in shotgun range.

Then the moment of truth when a big boy fills the air with his gobbling and deepens your breathing. He will walk into view with a bright red head and strutting his wings like a high school bully flexing his arms. Your calling is dead on and everything is working until you squeeze the trigger and feathers fly, but your turkey escapes, likely wounded to possibly suffer a horrible death. Then, after all expense and preparation for the hunt, you leave the woods with a hollow feeling after missing what seemed to be an easy shot and you wish the shot had totally missed that bird. There are few feelings worse than wounding a creature of any kind.

Shooting wild game is harvesting, or at least it should be. Wounding any creature to fly away or run off and suffer is terrible for the creature and for you. The one-shot kill requires preparation and plenty of practice. Anything less than a one-shot kill is totally unacceptable.

Knowing how your shotgun pattern is only part of the equation to having a successful hunt. But it is a very important part. Being used to shooting again and knowing your firearm makes you a more successful and safer hunter. Practicing the shot before the season will leave you confident with your shooting abilities, and you’ll be able to focus on other important parts of the hunt.

This year, try these helpful hints to ensure success.

Choose the correct shotgun

When choosing a shotgun for hunting, choose a model that’s comfortable to shoot to give you more confidence. Shooting magnum loads can lead to a bad case of the flinches or jerking the trigger, sure ways to throw off your sight plane.

Importance of shotgun chokes

A key element to an accurate shotgun is a good choke. For example, turkey chokes have more constriction than a full choke, and are often labeled “Extra Full” or “XX Full.” Tighter chokes are designed for smaller pellets such as No. 6 or No. 5 shot. The more open constrictions are better suited for larger pellets such as No. 4s.

Can you have too much constriction? Yes, you can. Depending on your gun and the ammunition you’ve selected, you can over-constrict the shot to the point where the pattern diminishes. It is possible for the pellets to bounce off each other or become deformed, leaving large holes in your pattern. The solution for this is to go to a more open constriction or to a smaller shot size.

Many veteran waterfowl hunters use improved or modified chokes with steel shot. Most prefer to work ducks or geese in for close shots. You will still find full chokes in blinds, but not as often as the lead shot days.


The ammunition you choose can drastically affect your pattern. Each gun-choke combination will shoot a specific round better than the others. The only way to determine which it likes, is to shoot a variety of ammunition. Vary your shot sizes and brands from several distances and stick with the one that gives you the most consistent pattern.

That all-important shot pattern

The ideal pattern for hunting turkeys is 100 pellets in a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. This density means that there should be plenty of pellets in the small vital area of the turkey’s head and neck to kill it ethically.

Know 40 yards

Turkey guns are often patterned at 40 yards because that is the maximum distance promoted by the Turkey Hunting Safety Task Force as the proper range to ethically and cleanly kill a turkey with a shotgun. However, knowing how your shotgun patterns at distances less than 40 yards is also very important. I think up to 50 yards is adequate for waterfowl hunters, though there are many 60-yard shots, even with veteran hunters.

Dial it in

Shotguns tend to be different, so field testing is important. Initial pattern tests should be on a 30-inch target. Sheets of butcher paper or craft paper work great. Draw a small two-inch circle in the middle and color it in with a marker, then draw a 10-inch circle centered on that.

Pace off 40 yards or use a laser range finder to mark your distance. Use a shooting brace/bench to reduce human error and shoot a single round at each target. Shoot a few different types of ammo through different choke tubes, record the information and then compare the results. Pick the round that gives you the densest pattern.

Be ready to shoot

After a few trips to the range, you’ll have the confidence that your gun can produce the needed results for cleaner kills.

Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at